By Gigi Stewart

A new year is the perfect time for a fresh start. For some, that means considering a gluten-free lifestyle. You may have even asked yourself if you need to go gluten-free. To help answer that question, here’s a little Gluten Free 101 for the uninitiated.

Let’s begin by understanding what gluten is. This is the protein portion of certain grains like wheat, barley and rye. In baking, gluten provides elasticity needed to lend structure and texture to foods like breads and cakes. Without it, baked goods fall flat and lack tenderness. Pastries and pastas are obvious sources of gluten, but gluten can show up in unsuspecting places from canned soups to medicines to soy sauce. Because gluten shows up in countless processed foods, following a gluten-free diet can be a challenge. So, why would anyone want to go gluten-free?

Truth is, most do not, but for some a gluten-free lifestyle is necessary. Individuals diagnosed with Celiac disease (CD) must adhere to a gluten-free diet for life. It is their only treatment option. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder of the immune system affecting the small intestine lining. When individuals with CD consume gluten, their body responds by attacking the small finger-like projections inside the small intestine. This causes poor nutrient absorption and a variety of other health issues. More than 300 symptoms are associated with CD, making it difficult to diagnose. In fact, some individuals endure years of misdiagnosis before discovering the reason for their poor health is gluten.

More than twp million people in the US have CD and even more suffer from Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Others in need of avoiding gluten are those with a wheat allergy. These individuals, along with the gluten sensitive, do not experience damage to their small intestine; however, they must also adhere to a strict gluten free diet.

For most (like me!), removing gluten from the diet is a medical necessity; however that’s not always the case. Some choose to omit gluten from their diet for other reasons. Some reasons may be…

  • A spouse or child who must live gluten-free. Family support is important when someone is diagnosed with CD or Gluten Sensitivity.
  • Other food allergies or intolerance. Wheat is one of the top eight food allergens in the US, 1 in 133 individuals have CD, and over half of the US population is suspected of being gluten sensitive.
  • Digestive issues like stomach upset, gas and bloating. Gluten is difficult to digest.
  • Diabetes. Ggluten elevates blood sugar levels.
  • Health issues that cause an inflammatory response. Gluten causes inflammation.
  • A desire to lose weight. Gluten-filled wheat flour that is refined has virtually no nutritional value and adds “empty” calories to the diet.

Whatever the reason, if you’re considering going gluten-free in 2012, here’s a brief overview of my “7 Steps to Success” to get you off to a great start!

1. Rock a positive attitude: A gluten-free diet does not mean restriction; it means liberation! Liberate your health to feel better, have more energy, and be the best you can be.

2. Purge your pantry: It’s a great time to do this anyway, right after the holidays. Out with the old (gluten) and in with the new, healthier (gluten-free) foods.

3. Learn how to read labels: Hidden gluten lurks in places you’d never suspect, sometimes using an alias.

4. Grocery shop gluten-free: Don’t fall into the trap of buying pre-packaged, over-priced gluten-free foods that aren’t very tasty. Discover the best products for your new gluten-free life.

5. Expand your palate: Try some foods you haven’t tried before like quinoa, teff, or amaranth. You’ll find new, exciting, gluten-free foods at every turn!

6. Get that apron on: If you don’t know how to cook, now is the time to learn. This is your most valuable tool when it comes to living gluten-free successfully.

7. Treat yourself to dinner out: Learn to dine out gluten-free. It can be tricky at first, but by asking the right questions, you’ll soon order like a pro.

See how tasty gluten-free can be! Try my…

 

Low-Fat Gluten-Free Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup white rice flour*

1/4 cup sorghum flour*

1/4 cup potato starch*

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 Tablespoon oil

1/4 cup plain low fat yogurt (substitute coconut milk yogurt for dairy-free)

2 eggs, lightly beaten (substitute equal amount of prepared egg replacer for egg-free)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk (for dairy-free substitute 1/2 Tablespoon white vinegar and enough rice milk to equal 1/2 cup liquid)

*available in special diets section of most grocery stores under brand name “Bob’s Red Mill”

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350F and line a 12-section cupcake pan with paper liners.

2. Combine flours and starch, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl; whisk to blend.

3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients; stir to blend.

4. Add the liquid mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until combined and dry ingredients are moist.

5. Divide batter evenly between sections of prepared pan. Bake 15-17 minutes until tops spring back lightly when touched or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Watch the cupcakes so they do not over bake. Cool completely before frosting/

Creamy Butter Cream Frosting

Ingredients:

4 Tablespoons butter, softened (for dairy-free use Earth Balance buttery spread)

2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 Tablespoons milk (if dairy-free, use rice milk)

For chocolate frosting, add 2 – 4 Tablespoons cocoa powder (2 for lighter chocolate, 4 for very chocolate!) when you add the powdered sugar.

Directions:

1. Place butter in a mixing bowl. Add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar (and cocoa, if using); stir (or mix with electric mixer) until smooth.

2. Add remaining sugar and vanilla extract. Blend until smooth.

3. Add milk, a little at a time, while mixing, until frosting is smooth and spreadable.

Frost cupcakes and store leftovers in refrigerator.

To learn more about Gluten Free Gigi, visit GlutenFreeGigi.com and sign up for her free newsletter at this link. Stewart holds a master’s degree in Behavioral Neuroscience with a focus in chronic pain. She has been completely gluten free for more than four years.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

10 replies on “Gluten-Free 101: Info, tips, recipes”

  1. Great article! I tell my customers all the time to try using alternative flours for different tastes and textures and to stop accepting pre packaged, commercially produce foods with no taste as acceptable! Gluten free can be enjoyable!

  2. Great article! I tell my customers all the time to try using alternative flours for different tastes and textures and to stop accepting pre packaged, commercially produce foods with no taste as acceptable! Gluten free can be enjoyable!

  3. Many times people have difficulty with multiple allergens at the same time. So instead of just worrying about gluten in their foods, they may also have to worry about soy, dairy, eggs, some of the nuts plus others.

    For a little help with winding your way through some safe substitutions to try to convert your own recipes, start your way through the substitution charts page if you need some help trying to get through the basics first.

    Don’t worry if now you are new, frustrated and very anxious. You had to learn how to cook once – this is just another way to learn again. You didn’t learn all you know the first time in a few days but you still made it. So, relax, take a breath and teach yourself again, one step at a time.

  4. Many times people have difficulty with multiple allergens at the same time. So instead of just worrying about gluten in their foods, they may also have to worry about soy, dairy, eggs, some of the nuts plus others.

    For a little help with winding your way through some safe substitutions to try to convert your own recipes, start your way through the substitution charts page if you need some help trying to get through the basics first.

    Don’t worry if now you are new, frustrated and very anxious. You had to learn how to cook once – this is just another way to learn again. You didn’t learn all you know the first time in a few days but you still made it. So, relax, take a breath and teach yourself again, one step at a time.

  5. If you are looking for a gluten free adult beverage, check out Monks Mead – Georgia’s first meadery (honey wine). Brewed to be light and crisp, it is reminiscent of a cider or a champagne.

  6. If you are looking for a gluten free adult beverage, check out Monks Mead – Georgia’s first meadery (honey wine). Brewed to be light and crisp, it is reminiscent of a cider or a champagne.

  7. I was on a Gluten free diet for around 6 months (5 years ago) as I was very unwell. The only thing that I really missed was a good bread!

  8. I was on a Gluten free diet for around 6 months (5 years ago) as I was very unwell. The only thing that I really missed was a good bread!

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